Paradigm Shift

Green buildings represent a major paradigm shift in architecture, engineering, construction and development. Instead of evaluating buildings on aesthetics or economics, we are now requiring that they be assessed against a set of criteria such as those which make up the LEED rating system, which look at energy, environment and health criteria. Make no mistake, this is a significant challenge to conventional wisdom and business as usual in the design and development business.

What is a paradigm? It is a dominant way of seeing the world, so embedded in our thinking that we don't/can't even consider alternatives.112 A few examples are familiar to everyone: 500 years ago, proposing that the Earth was round and revolved around the sun ran counter to both religious and scientific dogma. Espousing this new paradigm was tantamount to religious heresy (think of Galileo's imprisonment in the early 1600s), yet the facts were increasingly at odds with the old paradigm. Indeed, by the time Magellan's crew returned from an around-the-world voyage in 1522, traveling only in one direction, the roundness of the Earth was no longer an issue for medieval society. Within 100 years, telescopes and careful observations by astronomers began to establish planetary rotation around the sun as fact.113 To suggest otherwise today would be ridiculous.

In 1905 Einstein's remarkable special theory of relativity challenged more than 200 years of Newtonian physics that held that matter and energy were separate entities. By linking them together, Einstein overthrew the prevailing scientific orthodoxy and paved the way for a revolution in physics, as well as for atomic and hydrogen bombs, the development of nuclear power and nuclear weapons proliferation. In 1917 Einstein's general theory of relativity blew away the notion that space and time were separate, paving the way for theories of an ever-expanding universe. In just a few years, this theory was confirmed by observation.

New research in medicine, neuroscience and other disciplines is attacking dominant paradigms about mind, body and consciousness that have ruled for hundreds of years since French philosopher René Descartes first postulated, "I think, therefore I am." Global warming and sustainabil-ity concerns may be the forces that lead to a paradigm shift in our current dominant understanding of the world, one in which both unlimited economic growth and growing fossil fuel use are without consequence!

Given the major issues of global warming, loss of biodiversity, water and energy shortages in much of the world, green buildings represent the beginning of a paradigm shift toward truly sustainable design and development, restoration of ecosystem functioning and zero-net-energy urban settlements. As with most paradigm shifts, it's hard to see how we're going to get such results with our current systems of budgeting, planning, design, construction and operation of buildings and facilities. Yet, as scientist Donella Meadows famously observed in the 1990s, only a paradigm shift can make a significant change in complex human systems.114

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